Tips for Non-Native Speakers

New country - new kind of seminar paper

published: 09.10.2008

In different countries different rules apply to the academic work of students (Foto: Public Address)In different countries different rules apply to the academic work of students (Foto: Public Address)

Anyone who, as a non-native speaker at a German university, wishes to compile a thesis, is immediately faced with several challenges. Not only does a demanding topic have to be formulated in a foreign language, but also one has to have an insight into typical German working methods and the everyday chaos of a university campus. The Techniker Krankenkasse has made some enquiries into the university scene and has gathered some tips.

Step 1: See through your university
Serge Nadtotschi is in his second term of the Master programme "Entrepreneurship" in the Department for Economy and Politics at the University of Hamburg. The Ukrainian remembers his first thesis well. "I was registered with two courses in order to learn how scientific papers are written here", he says. "There was no contact person to ask."

Serge Nadtotschi had to get used to the German method of working first of all (Foto: Public Address)Serge Nadtotschi had to get used to the German method of working first of all (Foto: Public Address)

Unfortunately, there are no uniform contact points throughout the country that look after non-native speakers with such specific problems as compiling a thesis. Instead different structures prevail at every university or polytechnic that cannot be clearly recognised. In order to gain insight, it is best to first of all contact the existing help organisations such as the Deutscher Akademischer Austauschdienst, the "Studentenwerk", the central course guidance point at your university or the "Ausländer-Referat" (Foreign Students’ Council) of the General Students’ Council. Feel completely free to visit all contact points, even if not every office can help you. Do not hesitate to pester the people at the desks.

Some universities, for example the Uni Hamburg, offer so-called service points. There scientific assistants, lecturers or professors look after the students of one specialised faculty and also discuss problems with them that they stumble across in connection with examinations or achievement certificates. Other universities, for example in Erfurt, allocate an academic mentor to each of their students. At the University of Osnabrück a pilot project is to be launched soon in which a local student is responsible for the well-being of a foreign fellow student.

Once the preliminary version is ready, read it through again critically (Foto: Public Address)Once the preliminary version is ready, read it through again critically (Foto: Public Address)

Step 2: Get personal advice
Anyone who is not allocated a contact person from the very beginning should pluck up courage and approach his fellow students. Whether during a seminar, during university sports, in the canteen or within the framework of regular meetings, groups and info-cafés, the "old hands" usually know best about the structures of their university. Don’t miss an opportunity to tap such valuable sources of information.

From his own experience, Serge recommends that one should also definitely refer to other foreign students. "That works best because they feel associated with one another and exchange advice", he says. Finally, it is also customary to approach the tutoring staff or students’ representative bodies or even fraternities. Write an email to your professor, ask a lecturer after the seminar or phone up his or her office in order to solve problems without delay.

Step 3: Fathom out German peculiarities
Serge is also familiar with one of the typical problems of foreign students: the different kind of work expected locally. "In the Ukraine we also write large theses, but there we worked quite differently. The set-up was different to the one in Germany, not with introduction, theoretical and practical part and conclusion." So before you start on a thesis for the first time, you would familiarise yourself with the theory of the academic work in Germany. Special courses inform about which steps to take before and during a thesis, which sources to use and also which the most common expressions are. It is advisable to start up a "vocabulary book" in such a seminar in which you can collect the necessary expressions that you will be using repeatedly in your seminar work.

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